John Wyver writes: for this week’s round-up of reading and viewing that has engaged me over the past week I tried to limit stuff related to Covid-19, but somehow that proved hard to do – the first links are all pretty essential, and the mood lightens a little ‘below the fold’.
• Special Report – Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm: I tend not to include links to day-to-day reporting but this is exceptional journalism, datelined 7 April, from Stephen Grey and Andrew MacAskill at Reuters; I’ve seen surprisingly little pick-up.
• Vector in chief: Fintan O’Toole is simply brilliant on Tr*mp and the crisis, for New York Review of Books:
to understand Trump’s incoherence, we have to take into account two contradictory impulses within the right-wing mindset: paranoia and risk. The right appeals to the fear of invasion, of subversion, of contamination. But it also valorizes risk. The contemporary Republican Party, through Trumpism, has managed to ride both of these horses at the same time.
• Shockwave: hardly a cheering read, nor an easy one, but nonetheless essential — from the LRB Adam Tooze on the likely consequences of the pandemic for the world economy.
• Watching television in a pandemic: super-smart and thought-provoking from Lynne Joyrich for LA Review of Books:
TV is producing a “new normal” for us in these strange times, and it can incite us to ask what new productions might emerge — new forms of media and, more significantly, new forms of sociality, communication, intimacy, and care… But might other possibilities — a remaking of television — come to light?… And what possibilities for viewing, discussing, and interpreting might emerge?
• I worried The Good Fight’s new season would feel out of touch. I was wrong: no word yet on a UK airdate but season 4 (with, of course, the luminous Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, above) which started in the USA on Thursday, looks – unsurprisingly – compelling – this is from Kathryn VanArendonk for Vulture.
• Safe hands in a crisis – TV for lockdown Britain: former head of BBC Television News Roger Mosey for Television Magazine from the Royal Television Society on the future of the Corporation.
• What BBC fitness instructor Tony Britts tells us about Black gay history: this is completely fascinating — Jason Okundaye for i-D on the fitness instructor on the BBC’s Breakfast Time in the 1980s seen again in recent days in popular archive fragments; he was born in Ghana in 1955 and died of AIDS related complications in June 1988:
How is it that a Black ‘poof’ used to dance on the BBC’s flagship morning programme and I’m only just hearing about it now? The neglect of duty to preserve the memory of Black gay men is only made more apparent by the fact that another regular fixture of Breakfast Time, a white woman called Diana Moran, or the ‘Green Goddess’, has maintained a public profile ever since.
• The movies behind your favourite GIFs: a totally delightful and surprising video essay by Leigh Singer for Little White Lies…
• Hunting deplorables, gathering themes: David Bordwell starts out from The Hunt (with spoilers) and develops a wonderfully wide-ranging lecture on the poetics of cinema as he tried to answer two questions: How do films work? How do they work on us?
• “Certainly no Clark Gable”: reflections on the journalistic discourse about Hollywood character actors, ca. 1915-1945: a lengthy but interesting paper on the Iamhist blog by Linn Lönroth, Stockholm University, Sweden.
• Woody Allen’s brilliant betrayal: Tanya Gold on the films, the man and the book: ‘Mostly, it reads like a witness statement with digressions about Ingmar Bergman.’
• The Age of Emptiness: a truly beautiful essay by Oswald Iten reflecting on how movies change according to our circumstances, with visuals from Martin Scorsese’s 1993 adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence (1993) and audio from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).
• Silent bystanders in the archive (2) – ‘Calling Blighty’ from around the Empire: Lawrence Napper blogs beautifully about the Calling Blighty films:
Almost four hundred issues of Calling Blighty were made between 1944 and 1946 to allow British service personnel serving in the Far East to address their family and friends sitting in cinemas back home. Sixty-four of them survive and they are remarkable, excruciating documents.
Many of the films are held in the North West Film Archive, and the Calling Blighty project from North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University provides background and a list with links (although sadly they can’t be embedded).
• Jean-Luc Godard gave a masterclass on Instagram Live: for Dazed Selim Bulut introduces something truly rich and strange, which is all the more bizarre if you watch with the auto-translate function enabled… but how wonderful to see the great 89-year-old filmmaker looking pretty hale and hearty in, as it were, the virtual flesh:
• Virtual views – home movies: this is glorious — MoMA in New York has made available online a selection of compelling home movies from the last century, with an introduction by curator Rajendra Roy and a wrap-up Zoom discussion between Roy and on Magliozzi.
• Bubonic plague in Europe changed art history. Why coronavirus could do the same: LA Times critic Christopher Knight spins a richly interesting thread from Millard Meiss’ classic 1951 study Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death: The Arts, Religion and Society in the Mid-Fourteenth Century.
• How a vital record of Mexican indigenous life was created under quarantine: this too is really good from a LA Times writer — Carolina A Miranda on the Florentine Codex, ‘a massive 2,000-page compendium of Nahua (a.k.a. Aztec) life in the Valley of Mexico, where Mexico City is now located’.
• Kestrel, burgher, spout: Julian Bell writes wonderfully on Jan van Eyck for the LRB.
• Mortality and the old masters: in a quietly cheering essay Peter Schjeldahl writes for The New Yorker on Giovanni Bellini, Diego Velázquez and death:
Why does the art of what we term the Old Masters have so much more soulful heft than that of most moderns and nearly all of our contemporaries? … I think the reason is a routine consciousness of mortality.
• The circus photography of John Hinde: delightful from the V&A (and seemingly anonymous), about the exquisite images made backstage at the circus around World War Two by the pioneer of colour photography John Wilfrid Hinde (1916 – 97).
• 7 trending styles in architectural photography: a post from Architizer by Nathaniel Bahadursingh, linked to the publications One Photo Challenge, but of more general interest because of its discussion of changing ideas in the practice of photographing buildings and environments.
• Why do people have threesomes? The answers are not as simple as you might think: compelling for the i from the inimitable Dr Kate Lister.
• Erasing and remaking The Thousand and One Nights: working on a new version of the classic, writer and translator Yasmine Seale, contributing to The Poetry Review, finds a distinctive way of dealing with her predecessors and following the advice of Borges: ‘I think that the reader should enrich what she is reading. She should misunderstand the text. She should change it into something else.’
• Too late for me – Larkin and modernism: very fine writing by John Harris on the jazz criticism of Philip Larkin and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which concludes thus :
John Coltrane’s crowning work is enraptured and mystical; Larkin’s as bleak a drawing-down of the blinds as any voice has ever sounded. But in the early 21st century, with jazz’s more iconoclastic moments now warm and familiar, and old culture-wars long since stilled, poem and record are arguably revealed as complementary: either side of the existential coin, and each as compelling as the other.
• John Prine taught me to stay vulnerable: singer and songwriter Jason Isbell for The New York Times on the singer and songwriter who we lost to Covid-19 this week.
John and [his wife] Fiona Prine had a beautiful relationship, loving and balanced and kind. Fiona understood John better than anyone else. After Amanda and I were married, Amanda started asking all the couples we knew, “What’s the secret to staying together?” John and Fiona gave the same answer, and it was the best one we’ve heard so far: Stay vulnerable. John remained vulnerable in love and in his work. He never played it safe.
• John Prine – ‘Paradise’ (Live at Farm Aid 1986)
Header image: Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) in the season premiere at The Good Fight. Photo: Courtesy of CBS/CBCB 2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.